WAY TO LIVE_DOT I (GOD) // CHAPTER 1
“An unexamined life is not worth living.” // Socrates
The philosopher Cicero tells a story of Dionysus II, the king of Syracuse in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. He was rich and powerful, but remarkably unhappy. He ruled with an iron fist and made many enemies as king.
He lived under the constant fear of assassination. In fact, it is believed that his bedchamber was surrounded by a moat on all sides to prevent would-be assassins from killing him in his sleep.
In Cicero’s story, a man named Damocles lavished Dionysus with compliments and stated how full of joy his life must be.
“Since this life delights you,” Dionysus said to Damocles, “do you wish to taste it yourself and make a trial of my good fortune?”
When Damocles agreed, Dionysus seated him on a large golden couch and ordered his servants to wait on Damocles hand and foot. He was treated to the best food and drink that Syracuse had to offer. Damocles couldn’t believe it. He was getting to live the life of a king.
As soon as he had begun to fully enjoy his experience, he looked toward the ceiling. The happiness he felt left him as quickly as it had come. Hanging from the ceiling, just above his head was a sword. Suspended only by a single strand of horsehair.
From that moment on, Damocles could no longer enjoy the couch, the food, the drinks or the servants. After casting several glances at the sword dangling above him by a thread, he asked to be excused saying that he no longer wished to be as fortunate as Dionysus.
How many of us look at those we see as successful and wonder what good fortune they must have while we experience the worst of it? How many people have we seen find “happiness” only to see their lives get worse because of it? How many times do we look at those who have more money, success or influence and wish to sit where they sit, not taking time to glance at the precariousness of their—as well as our—own sword of Damocles?
Maybe we are all like Dionysus in some way. Blessed abundantly, but we have eyes that only see the instability of our fortune. Maybe we are like Damocles and wish to sit in the seat of others, not understanding the uncertainty of their experience.
Take a minute and ask yourself this question: What do you want out of life?
A good job? Nice house? Caring spouse? Money? Success? Influence? Happiness?
These are just some of the things that all of us want out of life. Sometimes we look at things like this and really do believe that attaining these things will eventually help us to accomplish some grand purpose.
We can know minute by minute what we want. Or even decade by decade. But what do you want out of your whole life? Out of all the things you could seek out and pursue, what do you think is most valuable?
The sword of Damocles teaches us that happiness can be lost at any time. Much of what we spend our lives doing can, in a moment, become meaningless.
Have you ever taken the time to decide what you want out of life? What would be worth your effort, strife and toil in your short time on Earth?
Have you considered that for all your striving and effort you could actually mislive? That you could miss the point of your entire existence and live a life that is unfulfilling and meaningless? Culture offers us many things that seem valuable. How many times have we heard of people regretting their pursuit of society’s definition of happiness? How many times have we pursued fame, fortune, influence and power hoping they would make us feel less empty?